Sin’s Plaguing Presence

We are delivered from sin’s penalty through justification and from its power through sanctification. This side of glory, though, we never will be rid of sin’s presence. Any believer who thinks otherwise is doomed to frustration and failure in the Christian life.

In a message from I John 1:8, the late Bible teacher Lehman Strauss told a story  of a man who, at the close of a service, met Dr. Strauss at his car and announced, “I’ve heard you for the last time.” “Why?” the Bible teacher asked. “Because you preached that the sin nature cannot be eradicated, and I’ve not sinned in word, thought, or deed for seven years.” Dr. Strauss said: “If I get down on my hands and knees and beg you to come one more time, and bring your wife with you, will you?” “Why?” asked the man. “Because,” said the preacher, “I want you to tell me in the presence of your wife you have not sinned.” The man stormed off and committed his first sin in seven years.

Even those who preach sinless perfection, or the eradication of the sin nature in this life, know they aren’t practicing what they preach. H.C. Morrison, a Methodist evangelist and former President of Asbury College, believed somewhat in sinless perfection. But when someone asked him, “Dr. Morrison, have you gotten to where you can’t sin?” his reply was: “No, I haven’t gotten to where I can’t sin, but I’ve gotten to where I can’t enjoy it!”

There are some common misconceptions when considering the subject of sin’s presence in the life of the believer: (1) Our old nature, at the time of conversion, got a complete makeover. Wrong. God gave us a new nature at the moment of our new birth. He did not take the old nature away, nor did He rework it. We have a new nature, and we are “new creatures, in Christ Jesus.” (2 Cor. 5:17) Salvation is not rehabilitation; it is transformation. (2) Ultimate sanctification in this life is possible. Wrong again. We have been sanctified positionally; we are being sanctified practically; and we will be sanctified perfectly. It is a process that begins at the time we are saved; it will be finished at the time we behold Him and shall be like Him. (I John 3:2)

Paul deals with the dilemma of indwelling sin in Romans 7:7-25.  The theologian, church-planting missionary, and apostle confessed that there was an ongoing spiritual battle within him every day: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that I do not; but what I would not, that I do.” Every honest follower of Christ will affirm that this is his/her daily battle. Paul attributes this conflict to the fact that “it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Rom. 7:17,20) He confessed, too, that in his “flesh dwelleth no good thing” (7:18) and affirmed that he delighted in the law of God after the inward man. (7:22) This war within was the daily dilemma: “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (7:23) In total frustration, Paul exclaimed: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (7:24) And the apostle answered his own question with the only correct solution to the ongoing struggle of every believer: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (7:25) There is victory!  The indwelling sin will never be eradicated, this side of heaven. But Jesus Christ, who is also indwelling each believer, can and will give victory! This is the only path to victory over the battle between the indwelling new man and the ever-present, also indwelling, old nature.

I know sincere believers have many questions about sin and their struggle with it:

  • Does God forgive me if I commit the same old sin over and over? Is it not hypocritical to ask His forgiveness, knowing that I most likely will do the same thing again?  Answer:  God sees your heart and knows whether you are sincere and truly repentant.  He does not keep a score card; He does not mark our iniquities against us.  (Ps. 130:3, 4) He told Peter to forgive 70 times 7. Does that sound like a God who has put a limit on the number of times you can sincerely attempt to achieve victory? “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:12-14)
  • Can I commit the “unpardonable sin”?  Answer: No believer can commit an unpardonable sin. Believers are “accepted in the beloved.” (Eph. 1:6) We have been born again and adopted into the family of God.  Nowhere in scripture are believers ever warned that their salvation can be forfeited by any sin.  Loss of rewards at the Judgement Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3) is their plight, not loss of salvation!
  • Can I ever achieve victory over my besetting sin?  Must I live with it forever?  Answer: Yes, you can and must achieve victory over your besetting sin. God has made a way for you to do so: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebs. 12:1, 2). There it is: Look to Jesus. The believer’s first responder can give you the emergency help that will sustain your life.  Look to Him, and “lay aside every weight.” The burden is on you to initiate the call for life-support. You must realize that you cannot win the battle over sin alone, any more than the apostle could. But Jesus can win it for you—and through you—if you are willing to “lay aside” and “look.”  You can do that!

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8, 9)

(Note: For victory over struggles with sin, addictions, and besetting sins, I highly recommend John Elmore’s book Freedom Starts Today, published by Baker Books.)

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